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Community Action SETS ITS AGENDA

Anti-Poverty Nonprofit Has Broad Agenda, Addressing Housing, Community Development and Helping Low-Income Find Their Voice

September 26, 2019

The Community Action Lehigh Valley held its Annual Meeting today in downtown Allentown with a sellout crowd of 260 people in attendance. While speakers focused on the agency’s accomplishments over the past year, the agency’s long-time Executive Director set the stage for its agenda in 2019-20.

While offering few details, citing plans to hold three press conferences in the next month, Executive Director Alan Jennings set an agenda that reflects the wide array of programs and services as well as advocacy issues that has long been a trademark of the agency. He announced that the Lehigh and Northampton Counties Revolving Loan Fund is being merged into his agency and would be administered by their lending subsidiary, The Rising Tide Community Loan Fund.

In discussing the agency’s plans in the Slate Belt, Jennings announced that the agency has taken over responsibility for administering the Slate Belt Council of Governments. Also in the Slate Belt, he announced that their community development initiative, Slate Belt Rising, would turn its attention this year to the “tiny borough of Portland, a community with so much potential, and then on to Pen Argyl.”

He made it clear that his organization is continuing to expand its housing programs, including two new initiatives in Center City Allentown’s neighborhoods, the details of which will be outlined in separate news conferences over the next month. He reiterated an announcement made last week that the agency was going to shift its focus in Allentown to investing in its future labor supply, referring to kids with too few opportunities today.

Jennings also announced that his organization was organizing “a major initiative on race,” but offered no details, once again citing a separate news announcement planned for October.

Finally, Jennings noted that credit unions in the Lehigh Valley have a poor record of mortgage lending to households of color. Claiming that their tax-exempt status and lack of a law requiring reinvestment in low-income communities like those that apply to banks gave them an unfair competitive advantage over those banks. Without citing any specific credit union, he did specify that the largest in the region rejected applications from people of color 3 to 4 times more than rejecting white applications. “That’s a problem and we plan on helping them understand that in the year ahead,” he said.

The theme of the program was “Together.” Acknowledging that current conventional wisdom is that our nation is too divided, Community Action Board President Wayne Barz said, “People who benefit from division, will foment that division. I believe Community Action foments togetherness.”

Community Action operates a wide range of programs designed to improve the quality of life for low-income people in the region. Those programs include the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Sixth Street Shelter, housing initiatives like homeownership counseling and foreclosure mitigation, rehab and new construction. The agency operates entrepreneurial programs that make loans and offer small business training. It also does extensive neighborhood revitalization work in downtown Allentown, south Bethlehem and the Slate Belt, ranging from façade improvements and creating pocket parks to planting trees and streetscaping. Only 32% of its budget comes from government funding, a proportion without equal among more than 1,000 Community Action Agencies in the nation.

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